From fundamentalism to Fascism and beyond: the trajectory of Hindutva

July 24, 2014

By Siddhartha Mitra

[This article, written just before the 2014 Indian general election, explores the rise of Hindutva as a political force – Eds]

“Garam Hawa hain Mian, bare garam;
Jo Ukhda nahin, sukh jayega”.

Scorching winds, sir … the searing heat!
Those who are not blown away will dry and wither …
— From the film Garam Hawa

The embers of the fires which engulfed Gujarat during the post-Godhra of 2002 are still smoldering, waiting to ignite and erupt into violent flames; and they did so last year. The same burning hate that flowed through the veins of the Hindu fundamentalist mob which hacked apart the MP Ehsan Jaffri gripped the rampaging Hindu mobs during the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar. From the time of the partition, when shouts of blood thirsty Hindu mobs filled the streets of Calcutta as they hacked Muslims to pieces while train loads of bodies of butchered Hindus came back from Pakistan, to the blood curdling cries of “Jai Shri Ram” shouted by Hindu Kar Sevaks as they broke down Babri Masjid brick by brick, India has witnessed the rise of the militant saffron power. And now, more than ever, the man who many feel is responsible for the Gujarat carnage, the Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, is on path to becoming the next Prime Minister in India.

As we look on with shock and perplexity, we begin to wonder, how have things come to such a pass? Is it just a set of right-wing fundamentalist people who are responsible for these violent acts in a supposedly secular country, or is it some deeper issue in the national psyche which is manifesting itself? In the so-called democratic and secular country, fundamentalist forces working closely with authoritarian state governments, had made atrocities like the Gujarat pogrom possible. So was there always a Fascist streak in Indian politics, and we are seeing the official emergence of Hindu Fascism in India, thus witnessing the birth of a nation where the saffron of the Indian flag is going to push out the green and white, and the Trishul replace the wheel at the center?

This essay will explore the rise of Hindu Fundamentalism, and the trajectory that it has taken from its origins to the present day. It will also look at how secular liberalism and Fascism originated in close association, and instead of opposing each other, have strengthened each other and have worked together in providing a sense of national identity in India. Finally it will also discuss how India could be heading towards a kind of ethno-democracy where majoritarian fundamentalist forces have aligned with all-powerful mega corporations #use state power to subjugate people belonging to minority communities in India.

The initial interactions of Hinduism with Islam
Fundamentalism is by definition a viewpoint which brooks no exception. A common perception which is still true for much of India is that Hinduism refers to a very diverse set of practices, cultural and spiritual. People who have identified themselves with such related practices have had a long history of harmonious and syncretic relationship with other religions. So how can Hindu fundamentalism exist, when Hinduism is loosely defined? To understand better, let us investigate the origins of Hinduism, and how different religions came to be in the India.

Islam and Christianity are two major religions in India apart from Hinduism. While Christianity came after the 1500’s with the Europeans, Islam first came to India with the Turko-Afghans at the turn of the millennium, after the initial raids by armies from Central Asia, most notably one under the Mahmud of Ghazni. After a few centuries of rule by the Turko-Afghans there was a large population of Muslims in India. But Islam they practiced had been greatly modified due to interactions with Hinduism, as was noted by Babur, the first Mughal ruler of India who came to India in the 1500. During the rule of the Turko Afghans and then the Mulsims, there was little or no animosity based on religion between the Hindus and Muslims. For the most part people practicing these faiths co-existed in harmony, and even drew inspiration from the other religion in their cultural and spiritual lives. People of each religion even adopted practices from the other. Interfaith marriages were not uncommon, and many such marriages were conducted by the ruling classes to forge alliances. The marriage of Akbar and Jodha Bai is an oft quoted example of such marriages, though it was part of a long tradition of interfaith marriages conducted by the Mulsim rulers with the local rulers of Rajputana and the Deccan.

The syncretism in belief systems was reflected in art, language and sculpture. The Urdu language, came out of a fusion of the languages of used by Hindus and Muslims. Many of the historical monuments and religious shrines from the medieval times, built both by Mughal rulers in the North or by Hindu kingdoms like the Vijayanagar kingdom in the South, reflect both Hindu and Muslim architectural patterns. It is true that at times mosques would be built on the ruins of Hindu temples, and Hindu temples on the ruins of mosques, Hindu temples on the remains of Buddhist Stupas and vice versa. However, the aim was more to reuse or re-purpose the material from the earlier mosque or religious shrine, rather than intentional desecration based on religious fervour. Richard Eaton[2] has suggested that no more than 80 temples were razed by Islamic rulers in over 700 years of rule, and that too primarily because they were political centers of power, and not primarily because of their religious significance.

The destruction of the Somnath temple shrine is popularly cited as an example of a Hindu temple destroyed by Muslims. But was it meant to be an intentional desecration? Even Kanhailal Munshi[3], a Hindu fundamentalist who pushed for reconstruction of the Somnath temple using public money, had initially suggested that Mahmud of Ghazni did not destroy the shrine because he wanted to desecrate a Hindu temple; it was quite incidental, his main intention being the capture a nearby fort. However, as Munshi increasingly adopted right wing fundamentalist views later in life, he rewrote his views and suggested that idol of the Somnath temple was purposefully destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni. As we will later see, recreating history is an approach which the Hindu fundamentalists have come to use frequently.

Both Islam and Hinduism underwent changes from the mutual interaction. The confluence of ideas and also led to new spiritual movements. The origins of the Bhakti movement in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries can be traced to the effect of the liberal aspect of Islam on Hinduism. The Bhakti movement spoke about one God, one which was closely aligned with the human spirit, an idea espoused by Sufism. It is true that at times during the period of the Turko-Afghan and Mughal empires in India there were conservative Islamic rulers, who tried to proselytize Islam and also discriminate against the non-believers of Islam. However, for the most part, the spiritual practices of Hindus and Muslims had become intermixed to a significant extent, and the people of India professed a wide spectrum of beliefs in which at times made it difficult to separate the different faiths.

The British view of Hinduism as a scriptural religion
The notion of a religion called Hinduism is relatively recent compared to the history of Hinduism. The name encompasses a diverse set of practices, which is difficult to place under a common banner. Muslim in India first gave the universal epithet of Hindiusm o these practices, looking through a common lens. But it was the British colonialists, looking through their conservative Protestant lens, who consolidated this approach. Missionaries looking for a “false religion” were not able to identify a single one, and had needed to create a monolithic entity to represent the different Hindu practices in India. The British also wanted to impose a legal system to stop practices present in Hindu communities, like the practices involving sacrificial killing of children, and the custom of burning widows or sati.

It would have been convenient for the British to create a legal framework in India on the basis of religious textbooks which prohibited these practices. However, no such book or books were available. Hindu scriptures, like Hindu traditions, are diverse, and there was no one scripture which could be selected to create a legal framework. Depending upon interpretation, the scriptures could be shown to suggest opposing views. Apparent contradictions were inherent in such books; for example, vegetarianism and violence coexisted in the Hindu texts. In either case, the relevance of the texts, specially Brahminical scriptures, to the lives of common people was not clear. Knowledge of Brahminical texts like Vedas was mostly restricted to the few upper caste Brahmins, and much of the other texts like the Puranas were a collection of mythological and folk tales and not guidelines on which people should lead their lives; though many drew inspiration from such sources, and the narratives themselves constantly evolved, reflecting the lives of the people.

While trying to enforce laws to abolish certain Hindu practices, the British received support from educated liberal Indian progressives like Raja Ram Mohan Roy[4]. Ram Mohan Roy hailed from a wealthy Brahmin family, and had studied in England before returning to India. He was influenced by his discussions with Islamic and Christian scholars, and sought to redefine Hinduism in the Biblical model as a religion based on the Vedas. His goal was one of social reform, to create a society in the European model. He declared that practices like widow burning or sati had no basis in religious scriptures, and hence should be abolished. Following Ram Mohan Roy, movements like the Arya Samaj of Dayanand Saraswati, and the Prarthana Samaj came into existence. These movements preached that life should be lived according to the scriptures, specifically the Vedas.

These movements, specially the the one started under the Arya Samaj movement also encouraged the burning of books like Puranas, which portrayed life that was lived outside of the Vedas. Followers of the Arya Samaj also sought to show other religions like Buddhism and Sikhism as false religions, while Hinduism was the true one. The counter these initiatives by the liberal reformers, a group of orthodox conservatives countered their arguments and sought to establish that Hindu scriptures did in fact sanction practices like sati; and that it was more a question of interpretation of the scriptures than a settled debate. These conservatives sought to establish a “Dharma Sabha”, which would, ‘devise means for protecting our religion and our excellent customs and usages’. They also proposed the formation of an Aryan nation.

Both the reformers and the conservatives sought to define Hinduism on the basis of scriptures, and not on actual practices. Because of these initiatives, “Hinduism” started to take a more concrete definition, albeit a narrow theoretical one. Once Hinduism could be viewed as a religion that was based on scriptures, it began to come into conflict with religions like Islam and Christianity, which were scriptural religions even as practiced by their followers in India.

However, there was a difference between defining the religions theoretically, and bringing the masses to believe in the new definition and live their lives according to certain guidelines. In order to influence the society at that time, both the conservatives and liberals sought to recreate a glorious and forgotten past, in which the Hindus did live according to the scriptures. The conservatives also aimed to establish that the conflict with other religions like Islam had existed for a long time in Indian history, and the current struggle against Islam was a continuance of that past, a struggle in which victory would reestablish the glorious conditions of yore. During the initial stages, the Hindu conservative forces restricted themselves to providing different interpretations of the past; subsequently, they would attempt to rewrite entire sections, creating a narrow and prejudiced version of history. It is in this backdrop that Hindu fundamentalism makes its appearance.

The rise of Hindu fundamentalism and the influence of Damodar Vinayak Savarkar
Both the liberal secularism and far-right conservatism grew in response to the legal framework the British tried to impose. It was in this background, with the dreams of nationhood beginning to take shape in the minds of the elites of India, that the Hindu Mahasabha comes into existence. Founded in 1914, and initially led by populist leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malaviya, the goal of the organization was to provide a space which would bring together people who wished to create a nation of Hindus. The conservative Hindu movement, which was already fundamentalist in nature, now added the new tinge of nationalism.

It is around this time that Damodar Vinayak Savarkar takes center stage in this the unfolding tale of the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Savarkar, who studied law in England before returning to India in the early 1900’s, became involved in freedom struggle in British India, and was sent to imprisonment for life in the Andaman islands in 1910, for being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate a British official. Before he went to prison, he had written a commentary on the Sepoy Mutiny in which he spoke of a common Hindu and Muslim “Jihad” against the British. However, the prison life shifted his views entirely, possibly due to unfavorable interactions he had with some Muslim fellow prisoners.

Savarkar was released in 1924, after promising that the British that he would be “without danger to the state”. After he came out, he became active in the Hindu Mahasabha, eventually rising to head the group from 1937-42. After his release, he had come to regard Muslims as the “enemy within”, or the “outsider inside”; the British were no longer the enemy, but the Muslim were. His biographer Bakhle portrays him to have fought for Indian Independence all his life, and glosses over the transformation Savarkar underwent in prison, but neither assertion appear to be accurate. After 1924, his entire focus and energy had shifted to the subject of mastery and subjugation of the Muslims in the India subcontinent. In this, he realized that the British could be an ally, and not the adversary.

Savarkar moved away from the focus of the Hindu conservatives of creating a nation in which people live according to the Vedic scriptures. He described himself as an Hindu aetheist; Hinduism as a religion was not greatly attractive to him. He realized that Hinduism was more of a cultural practice, and he sought to unite such practitioners against Islam. He recognized the difficulty of promoting such a view in a country like India in which there was great cultural and spiritual diversity; yet he felt that there was a common thinking which could be mobilized to suit the agenda of the conservatives, which was to create the notion of Muslims as outsider and enemies. Using the same symbolic image of an Aryan nation or Aryavarta, which was introduced by earlier conservatives, he proceeded to define Hinduism and India in a way which would exclude Muslims and Christians.

In his 1937 speech he said that “Hinduism is bound and marked out as a people and a nation by themselves not only by the tie to a Holy Land in which their religion took birth but by ties of a common culture, a common language, a common history and essentially a common fatherland”. Interestingly he used the term Fatherland, as was done by the Nazis, whose ideology heavily influenced the Hindu fundamentalists. Though it should be mentioned that later on the Hindu fundamentalists would use both the terms Fatherland and Motherland depending on the context, and also would the epithet of “Holy Land” or Punyabhumi, thereby tying religion to a national identity. Hinduism and a national identity became one and the same, in fact the only definition of the nation was to be a religious one; a nation which had been invaded by people of other faiths. Religions which originated outside of India, like Islam and Christianity, were not seen to be belonging to India, and the people who professed such faiths were by this definitions outsiders.

Like the European Fascists, the Hindu fundamentalists sought to attribute a common cultural identity of the majority cultural group in a country to help promote the idea of a country in which Muslims were the outsider inside. Religious and national identities were thus merged, an approach which is still in use by the Hindu fundamentalists today. Narendra Modi recently stated that “ I am a Hindu nationalist”, which he later explained saying that “I am a Hindu, and I am a nationalist, therefore I am a Hindu nationalist”. In fact, being these two identities were considered to be one and the same thing. Though Hindu fundamentalism was quite rigid in its views, it is flexible enough to incorporate nationalism when nationalism gained importance in the national psyche.

Subjugation of Muslims had become the central focus of the Hindu fundamentalist movement; the question was, how was this to be achieved? In an authoritarian state like a Fascist state, violence could be used for the subjugation and eventual destruction of a minority. The goal and the model of oppression of the fundamentalists was the same, but they were not in power. But were they still a Fascist force? In short, can Fascism have another form, and has it existed in another such form for a while in India?

A “subaltern Fascism”
The word Fascism brings into mind the the images of the burning of the Reichstag, the horrors of the Kristallnacht, and images of the concentration camps which killed millions. It was the show of unchecked power of an authoritarian state supported of the majority of its population. But what is Fascism? Does it indicate specific political force which rules a state through violence, or is it, as Paul Arpaia has suggested, a loosely defined ideology?

Kannan Srinivasan, in his essay “A subaltern Fascism”[5] , indicates that Hindu fundamentalism is a kind of Fascism, which existed even during the times of the British Raj. Complete subjugation and mastery over the Muslims in India through the use of violence was the goal of the Mahasabha members, and they were able to progress towards their goal without being the political party in power. The underlying current of reaching their ends through violence remained, but on the surface the Mahasabha remained a subject of the British Raj and needed operate under the British laws. Though other groups with similar ideologies were formed, and those were willing to openly use violence to reach the goals of the fundamentalists. The Rashtriya Sewak Sangh ( RSS ), another Hindu fundamentalist organization founded in 1925 by Keshav Balram Hegdewar openly supported violence is an example of such a group.

The Mahasabha chose to work within and in cooperation with existing power structures; it is this aspect which makes their politics of Hindu fundamentalism a kind of Fascism, which Kannan Srinivasan labels as a subaltern Fascism. The Mahasabha was against the idea of a putsch like takeover of the state, as had happened in European Fascist states. The goal was one of was one for long-term organic change, while working with the state, and hoping for an authoritarian succession as the ruling force. As long as there was a possibility of democratic or secular rule, which the fundamentalists feared would empower the Muslims in. The RSS, on the other hand, cannot be quite labeled Fascist as they chose to operate outside the framework and were openly militant. They were banned three times, including twice in independent India, but each time the ban was lifted after a while. It is to be noted that Muslim terrorist organizations did not chose to work within the framework of the state, and in this sense they did not have Fascist tendencies.

Mahasabha leaders like Savarkar and B.K.S.Moonje worked with the British and the leaders of princely states like Gwalior to get access to arms for giving Hindus arms trainings. Friendship with people in power, helped the organizing of pogroms for the mass killing of Muslims. An example of this was the killing of 82,000 Muslims in the province of Berar during the time of the partition. This was made possible because of the close connection the Mahasabha leaders had with the leaders of the Central Province of Berar. The first Home Minister of India, Vallabhai Patel was sympathetic to the Hindu fundamentalists.

Access to the higher echelons of power helped the fundamentalists to carry out pogroms without being prevented from doing so; most perpetrators in these carnages were never brought to justice, a pattern which continues to this day. Few of the perpetrators of the 1992-93 and 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogroms have been punished till date. Recently the Special Investigative Tribunal ( SIT ), which was deputed to find the truth about the Gujarat carnage has given a clean chit to Modi, ignoring damning evidence against him. As was pointed out by Manoj Mitta in his book “ The Fiction of Fact Finding: Modi and Godhra”, the Special Investigative Tribunal failed to ask Modi crucial questions about his administration’s complicity and inaction during several massacres that occurred in 2002, like for example the Gulberg Society massacre in which Ehsan Jaffri was killed. The Hindu fundamentalist forces were even successful in recently blocking an anti-communal violence bill to be tabled in the parliament, which would have provided a legal framework of perpetrators of crimes during communal riots.

By the time of Independence, the Fascist traits of Hindu fundamentalism, or Hindutva as it has now commonly referred as, had become apparent. This essay will be investigating the current trajectory of Hindutva, but before we consider the evolution of Hindu fundamentalismpost-Independence, let us have a look at the different strategies which were employed by the different forces working under the common banner of the Mahasabha. These will be relevant in understanding the different forces of fundamentalism at work today.

Working without a mass-base
None of the Hindutva groups ever had mass support; and that might have been by design, as they might not have found it necessary to have a mass base for achieving their objectives. Political and financial support was found to be sufficient to reach the goals of large scale violence against minorities. The lack of a mass base set Hindutva forces in India apart from the Fascist forces of Europe, like that in Germany, where the Nazi’s came to have support from most of the country. Though they lacked mass participation, they were well organized and extremely efficient in their activities The RSS was organized along Fascist lines – there were not elected bodies or representatives, while each group had an authoritarian leader, who were called Chalaks, which is the closest Hindi word equivalent of “Fuehrer”.

The organizational strength of the Hindutva groups become apparent during the programs against Muslims. Since the time of the partition, pogroms against Muslims have been carried out in a well-planned manner. Meticulously detailed plans were used in the Bombay riots of 92-93, and during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 when Narendra Modi was the chief Minister of the state. During the Gujarat riots, detailed maps of Muslim houses were provided to the main instigators and perpetrators, alongside with cell-phones for better communication. Evidence suggests that the recent riots in 2013 in Muzzaffaranagar in UP were meticulously planned as well.

Religions which originated in India, like Buddism, Sikhism and Jainism, were projected to be aspects of Hinduism and hence people who believed in these religions were classified as belonging to India. Mobilization of a larger numbers of Hindus also needed working across the caste lines which divided Hindu society. While the liberals on the surface claimed to work to abolish the caste system, the conservatives had been stated their intention of seeking to reform deviations which had crept into the caste system. The reformers wanted equality to keep in line with their ideals, while the conservatives wanted to unite the Hindus so that a large majority of the population could be polarized against the Mulsims. However, the core support of the Hindu fundamentalists, specially in places like Maharashtra, came from upper caste Hindus. Therefore abolishing caste was not aligned with Hindu fundamentalist politics. Though they made people of lower castes feel that they had rights like people of upper castes, the Hindu fundamentalists made no real effort in trying to remove the feudal system which held the caste hierarchy in place in India.

Over years, several different fundamentalist groups with closely defined ideologies have came into existence under the broad banner of Hindutva. This was a deliberate policy of the right-wing fundamentalists, and this policy was adopted in order to maximise the effectiveness of the right-wing forces. The Bharatiya Janata Party, came to represent the political wing of the fundamentalists; they reached out to traders and people of the middle-class as well as to the general population. The Bajrang Dal was formed as the militant wing, seeking roots among people of lower castes. The Vanvasi Kalyan Manch was created to serve and also convert to Hinduism the indigenous people of India. It is worth noting that the word Vanvasi means forest dweller, and the fundamentalists use this term over Adivasi, or first people, when referring to indigenous people in India.

Implicitly this indicates that Aryans were always present in India, and hence they have equal rights as the indigenous people over the resources in th elands in which the first people live, specially in the forest corridor of central India. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is the face of Hindutva in educational institutions, and is comprised largely of students. They have been quite effective in silencing liberal and progressive voices in student campuses, though there has been successful resistance to their actions lately.

The Vanvasi Kalyan Manch, a right-wing outfit which works with the indigenous people in India in converting them to Hinduism, has elaborate ceremonies known as “Ghar wapsi” to “bring back” people specially indigenous people, into the “Hindu” fold. However, people who were “brought back” into the Hindu fold essentially would start at the bottom of the caste ladder. The liberals reformers did not try to convert other religious groups into Hinduism, but conservatives sought to do so, thereby sharpening the line of who could be a Hindu fold and who could not.

The hidden hand of Hindutva: rewriting history, recreating a culture
Cultural and social diversity in India is reflected in the multiple languages, cuisines, mythologies and spiritual practices; trying to unify different groups under a common banner required an effort to influence these social and cultural identities. The different identities have evolved out of deep historical roots. Influencing cultural norms thus requires a revision of history and a creation of an image of the past which would help create a continuum to the present moment, where history and our current cultural and social lives intersect.

Savarkar and other Mahasabha leaders prominently featured in this effort to recreate history. Savarkar’s own writings reflected a change from his earlier more liberal attitudes, as has been noted earlier. The writings of B.K.S.Munshi, the founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, is another example of this transformation. A noted historian, Munshi in his 1937 essay on the destruction of the Somnath temple had written that the primary objective of Mahmud of Ghazni when attacking the Somnath temple was to conquer the forts around the temple, and was not the destruction of the iconic stone deity of the temple. According to Munshi, the actions of Mahmud of Ghazni were motivated more by political reasons than by religious zealotry. But in his later writings, just after independence, Munshi changed this view and portrayed the attack by Mahmud of Ghazni as one of an invasion of India and as a directed attack on Hinduism.

The fundamentalists sought to portray a monolithic and narrow version of Hinduism when speaking about its origins, much like the ideal version of Brahminical Hinduism which was suggested by earlier conservatives. In this version, the mythological characters had flawless moral characters, and in the golden age of the past millennium Hindus lived in a perfect Utopian world which was destroyed by Muslim invaders. Narratives which challenged either the Utopian past or questioned the religious zealotry of Muslims became targets of attack.

As recently as few years ago, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad ( ABVP ) was successful in pressurizing the Delhi University in dropping A.K. Ramanujan’s “Three Hundred Ramayanas” from their syllabus. In that essay Ramanujan had challenged the flawless character portrayals of Hindu gods like Indra and mythological figures like Rama. More recently, Wendy Doniger’s book “The Hindus” was banned in India, and the publisher Penguin was ask to pulp any remaining copies it had of the book. One of the objections which was brought up to Doniger’s work was the authors suggestion that Ramayana was a mythical tale written by real people.

Airbrushing history does not stop in the past; rewriting current narratives as they occur changes history as it is being made. The different Hindutva organisations have been been successful in active in this effort. The ABVP was successful in disrupting a recent meeting that a progressive group was organizing in Delhi after a fact-finding mission into the recent riots in Muzzafaranagar; not too long ago, the ABVP had also vandalized and disrupted the screening of noted director Sanjay Kak’s film Jasn e-Azadi, which explored the peoples struggles in Kashmir, a film which questions the nationalist narrative. In the US, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) successfully petitioned to stop the screening of the film Sita sings the Blues; the film portrayed the feelings of abandonment which Sita felt at different times of during the Ramayana due to the actions of her beloved when Rama, despite the unconditional love she offered.

Cultural history is also celebrated through music, literature, religious festivals. A revision of history would thus require changes to the cultural practices or introduction of new ones. Early proponents of Hindu fundamentalism, like Bal Gagadhar Tilak introduced the worship of Ganesh during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in the villages of Maharashtra towards the end of the nineteenth century. Worship of Ganesh during the festival was promoted with almost a nationalistic fervor, and the festival gained popularity as the independence movement gained strength. Today it has become the largest annual festival in Maharashtra, it was nowhere so ubiquitous a hundred years ago.

Apart from introducing new religious festivals, there was also an effort on behalf of the fundamentalists to usurp indigenous religious practices and give them a flavor which conformed with their view of Hinduism. The Bhils worshiped a goddess named Yaha Maga, which they wanted to rename to goddess Jagadamba. In short, cultural and social practices were narrowed to a certain specific set of the diverse practices, ones which were part of the narrative of Hindutva in creating a certain vision of a glorious Hindu past. And not only in India, Hindu nationalist ambassadors like Swami Vivekenanda also preached a certain version of militant Hinduism both in India and in the West, promoting the idea in the West that India is a Hindu nation.

It is not just the Mahasabha and its allies which tried to influence Hindu customs. The secularists like Gandhi who in his ashram near Ahmedabad promoted a vegetarian and non-violent way of living according to Vedic principles. However, caste distinctions, which form the basis of Hindutva, were emphasized upon, and not removed in Gandhi’s vision. Gandhi and later the Indian left played a significant role in shaping Hindutva and incorporating it into the ideals of bourgeois nationalism. Below excerpts from the book India and the Raj Vol II throws some light to Gandhi’s role in substantiating Hindu nationalism:

“On 18 August 1932, the day after the announcement of MacDonald’s Communal Award, Gandhi wrote to him that unless his government revised its decision in respect of separate electorates for the depressed classes, he would go on fast from 20 September. As he confided to his associates, Patel and Mahadev Desai, he felt worried that “the separate electorate will create division among Hindus so much that it will lead to bloodshed. Untouchable hooligans will make common cause with Muslim hooligans and kill caste Hindus.” The Muslims were already alienated from the Congress; Gandhi could hardly permit the `untouchables’ to break away from the Hindu or Congress fold. To avert the disaster the mahatma decided to undertake a fast.”

During the Khilafat Movement, Gandhi advised his listeners in Hyderabad in Sind not to use violence, not to resist but to “follow non co-operation” and, “if too weak to follow non co-operation”, to “do hijrat,” that is to migrate from India to some Muslim country. [[Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XV, page 469]]

The use of the term Harijan by Gandhi itself is problematic, for it associated people of lower castes or indigenous people with a Hindu spiritual figure. Many of the people who were labeled Harijans were worshiped deities which were not present in the mainstream Hindu pantheon.

Thus we see that many different approached were used by the forces of Hindutva; this makes them unique, and it is difficult to label them in an existing label. They do have Fascist and authoritarian tendencies, but the kind of Fascism is unique in their own way. In fact, the dynamic approach used is representative of way Hindutva appeared to morph to fit with political contingencies, while maintaining a core inflexible belief of upper caste Hindu domination over Muslims and people of lower castes.

Let us return to look at the evolution of Hindutva, and where it is headed today.

From Fascism to “ethno-democracy”: the current trajectory of Hindutva
The liberal and conservative trends in British India were the catalysts for secular and semi-Fascist trends in Indian politics by the time of independence from British India. The builders of the new India could chose India to become a Hindu religious state, or a liberal secular state. They chose the latter. This was not really a defeat for the Hindu right-wing forces, perhaps because they did not have the mass support and might not have been able to implement their authoritarian policies had they come to power. The secular facade under which they could quite freely operate in strengthening their base perhaps provided them provided them the needed cover to expand their work and create a base, preparing the groundwork for an eventual ascendancy into power. Similarly, the appearance of secularism could survive by presenting the bogey of a takeover by fundamentalist forces were it to fail.

And thus today we have a secular state with Fascist forces prospering and poised to take power. This appears to be a contradiction, for one would have expected only one or the other to exist. In reality, neither is involved in advancing the cause of the people through the mass movements, and help serve the same causes of capitalism, though the fundamentalist forces are more blatant in their support of exploitative economic and social power structures.

Thus both liberalism and fundamentalism derive their strengths from each other, and the presence of the other helps each side to progress their agenda. And both create an exclusionary space; liberalism creates a exclusionary space as it suggests that everyone is welcome – but anyone who is not willing to accept even one aspect of life or culture is not welcome in a liberal state. As Alexander Solzhenitzyn once said – “there is a fine line between good and evil which runs through every human heart. And who would give up a piece of his heart?”

The recent rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or common people’s political party also needs to be considered in this context. The AAP came out of the anti-corruption movement started by Anna Hazare. Anna Hazare, in his village of Ralegaon Siddhi, promoted a Brahminical way of living, where people needed to take oaths in front of the temple and promise to live an ideal Brahiminical lifestyle. That kind of living was at contrast with the real lives of the village people which were shaped by the local culture and ecology. AAP espouses anti-corruption, though it does not dwell much into the causes which cause corruption; it appears to profess a liberal and secular viewpoint, without having a clear political ideology regarding emancipation of the working masses and other oppressed people. As Vijay Prashad has indicated, the AAP does not promote critical by not having an ideology promotes a lack of thinking.

Nationalism has now become identical with the economic power and military might of a nation. As as national identities have been identified with the religious identity, so have the economic and military achievements become expressions of the religious identity. The link between capitalists and the fundamentalists had been present growing even before independence; and this is no surprise, as the fundamentalist forces needed funding which could not come from mass base as there was none. Before Independence, the prominent industrialist G.D.Birla provided significant support to the fundamentalist forces, though he had stopped short of funding arms training school for Hindus. The testing of the “Hindu Bomb”, as Arundhati Roy put it, gave way to great amounts of flag waving and nationalism.

Development projects and mining operations have caused massive displacement and dispossession among indigenous people in the BJP dominated states of Chhattisgarh and Gujarat. The policies of the Congress are perhaps no worse than the BJP, though the corporate giveaways by the BJP in Guajarat and Chhattisgarh has been of a much grander scale than in Congress dominated sattes. At the national level Hindu fundamentalists have aligned themselves at a higher level with the big industrialists and corporates. The mining behemoth Vedanta, whose exploitative mining practices are known throughout the world, is a large contributor to the BJP party coffers. In return, these companies get large concessions and are able to leverage state power in order to clear lands for their operations. In todays world, Vedanta is ones of the highest donors to the BJP, and the support of Tata for Modi’s is well known. The industrialists are looking for concessions, which they get at a great cost to the common people.

Where are we headed? Secularism and liberalism has taken too strong a hold for it to be removed, at least in the international eyes. Perhaps, as Christophe Jaffrelot has suggested, that India is heading towards a kind of ethno-democracy, where only people who profess the Hindu faith will enjoy the fruits democracy. Or it could be that the Fascist forces will create an authoritarian state, which will allow for easier suppression of any truly democratic space, subjugating the oppressed minorities while allowing unchecked growth of corporate power leading to exploitation of common people and nature.

Perhaps antagonism to Muslims and Christians will no longer be the primary goal of the fundamentalists; their goal always had been preservation of a ruling elites and maintenance of a feudal structure. With the growth of capitalism, the nationalistic and religious fervor could be channeled to help make way for the creation of a hyper capitalistic state. The growing anger against the neoliberal policies could be deflected to organize pogroms against the minorities. It is an towards an uncertain future that we look at now. Maybe we might not see the return of the fires of Gujarat, at least in that scale; but it is doubtful if people like Zakia Jafri, Ehsan Jaffri’s widow, will ever get justice.

References:
1) R.C.Majumder et al . An Advanced history of India
2) Revathi Laul: ‘It’s a myth that Muslim rulers destroyed thousands of temples’
http://www.tehelka.com/its-a-myth-that-muslim-rulers-destroyed-thousands-of-temples/
3) The Hindutva Underground: Manu Bhagavan http://www.academia.edu/4360132/The_Hindutva_Underground
4) The dark hour of secularism: S.N. Balagangadhara, Jakob De Roover
http://www.academia.edu/1587154/The_Dark_Hour_of_Secularism_Hindu_Fundamentalism_and_Colonial_Liberalism_in_India
5) A subaltern Fascism?: Kannan Srinivasan, http://www.sacw.net/IMG/pdf/A_subaltern_fascism.pdf
6) The Hindus: An alternative History, Wendy Doniger

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